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The Interview Issue: Attorney Bruce Gale on medical marijuana in Nevada

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Attorney Bruce Gale has become an expert in medical marijuana law. Now, he’s counseling clients who want to be among the first in the business in Southern Nevada.
Photo: L.E. Baskow

Why are people coming to you for this? I’ve been working on medical marijuana just about every day since April 15, 2013, and I’m on the board of W.E.C.A.N. (Wellness Education Cannabis Advocates of Nevada). I’ve been going in front of the Clark County Commission, the Las Vegas City Council, the City of Las Vegas Planning Commission, I was in North Las Vegas on Tuesday. I hold myself out as someone who’s representing the applicants, and so people have called me.

Clark County received 206 preliminary review forms for proposed medical marijuana establishments last week. What do you see as the biggest obstacle for people trying to set up a business? For a lot of people, I equate it to a three-legged stool. You need a lot of money, you need a great team and you need a location. It’s a land grab. Not everyone has all three legs. They might have money; they have no experience. They might have land; they have no money. There are some 800-pound gorillas that have all three.

How do you prepare your clients for being in a space where federal law and state and local law don’t line up? I advise them candidly about the three potential federal versus state law clashes ... On August 29, 2013, Assistant U.S. Attorney General James M. Cole came out with the Cole Memo, [which] basically said, It’s our policy that we’re not going to prosecute for violations of the Federal Controlled Substances Act, if the state licensed establishments meet eight factors: prevent distribution to minors, to gangs, to criminal enterprises, cartels, aren’t crossing state lines … The war on drugs has been a failure. The tide is changing just like it is on same-sex marriage. There is a risk, but just comply with state law to the T and don’t violate those eight factors and just hope for the best. The second federal issue is [taxes]. These medical marijuana establishments are considered trafficking in controlled substances, and they’re not allowed to deduct what would otherwise be ordinary and necessary business deductions, except cost of goods sold. Establishments could potentially have a higher effective tax rate. ... The third issue is the banking issue. Federally chartered banks, a lot of banks are staying away from medical marijuana establishments because they don’t want to lose their FDI insurance or they don’t want to have problems with the feds. So I tell everyone, we need to find a medical marijuana-friendly bank. I’m still looking. I’ve got some calls to make and some more due diligence.

What's the biggest misconception that you’ve seen as far as how this is working? I think people don’t realize what it takes to be competitive. I’ve advised everyone, it’s very, very difficult to be competitive. I think maybe some people are more idealistic, and may need a dose of reality.

What’s your take on the possibility of recreational marijuana becoming legal here? I think it’s going to pass. In 1998, it passed by 60 percent. In 2000, it was 65 percent. Our constitution was amended in 2000, and it came out yesterday that Joe Brezny of the Nevada Cannabis Industry Association is going to get 100,000 signatures to get it on the ballot. Hell, we’ve got everything else here.

Have you gotten any flak from people in your community about being involved with medical marijuana? Not really. Most people I’ve talked to are in favor of it. On May 6, the supreme court of Nevada is having a hearing on a revision to Nevada Rule of Professional Conduct 1.2, because the language is, if we’re advising a client to commit a crime by counseling them on medical marijuana, we could face discipline from the state bar.

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